Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Robert G. Ingersoll to Walt Whitman, 12 December 1891

Date: December 12, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02352

Source: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Transcribed from digital images or a microfilm reproduction of the original item. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Editorial note: The annotation, "see notes Dec 10th & 16th—also 17th—1891," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Andrew David King, Cristin Noonan, and Stephanie Blalock

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400, 5th Ave,1
Dec 12. 91—

My dear Mr. Whitman,

A thousand thanks for the "Leaves of Grass" and many many more for the inscription—

As soon as the book came I read to a party of friends the "Mystic Trumpeter"2 and we were all stirred to the very depths as though by the blast of a trumpet. What a beautiful, hopeful, imaginative, tender—prophetic and superb poem it is!—Then I read Sea Drift—The guests from Alabama, and then "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed"—and we all agreed that there could not be found in our literature three poems to equal these in intensity, tenderness, philosophy and dramatic form.3

The only objection I have to the book is that it purports to be finished—with you, while there is life there will be song. You have not reached the journey's end and, while a grain of sand remains within the glass of time, there's something left unsaid that we, your friends, would gladly hear. You must not say Goodbye!—Wait and let that be the last. Thanking you again for the book and especially for the loving words

I am as ever your friend and admirer
R.G. Ingersoll

Mrs. Ingersoll4 writes with me in thanks, congratulations and regards—

Robert "Bob" Green Ingersoll (1833–1899) was a Civil War veteran and an orator of the post-Civil War era, known for his support of agnosticism. Ingersoll was a friend of Whitman, who considered Ingersoll the greatest orator of his time. Whitman said to Traubel, "It should not be surprising that I am drawn to Ingersoll, for he is Leaves of Grass. He lives, embodies, the individuality I preach. I see in Bob the noblest specimen—American-flavored—pure out of the soil, spreading, giving, demanding light" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, March 25, 1891). The feeling was mutual. Upon Whitman's death in 1892, Ingersoll delivered the eulogy at the poet's funeral. The eulogy was published to great acclaim and is considered a classic panegyric (see Phyllis Theroux, The Book of Eulogies [New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997], 30).


1. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | Camden | New Jersey. It is postmarked: NEW YO[RK] | DEC 14 | 9 PM | [illegible]; 91; CAMDEN, N.J. | DEC 15 | 6 AM | 91 | REC'D. [back]

2. Ingersoll is referring to Whitman's poem "The Mystic Trumpeter." [back]

3. In this sentence, Ingersoll refers to the following works by Whitman: the section of Leaves of Grass titled Sea-Drift, which includes the poem "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking" (the source of the lines "Two feather'd guests from Alabama, two together, / And their nest"), and When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd." [back]

4. Eva Amelia Parker Ingersoll (1841–1923) of Groveland, Illinois, was the daughter of Benjamin Weld Parker and his wife Harriet E. Lyon Parker. She married Robert G. Ingersoll in 1862, and they had two daughters, Eva Ingersoll Brown (1864–1928) and Maude Ingersoll Probasco (1864–1936). [back]


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